Siena played only six players for most of last season, however the resilient Saints were still able to beat third-seeded Manhattan in overtime in the MAAC quarterfinals before falling to eventual conference champion Loyola (MD).
By exceeding expectations with a roster that came together and fought to finish sixth in the conference, expectations will be raised for a roster where the Saints have added depth. Siena adds three freshmen, two players who were forced to spend last season in residency, and return three players from season-ending injuries suffered prior to the 2011-12 season.
“We’ve got a good nucleus of guys off the bench,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “There’s a lot more flexibility, a lot more versatility, a lot more options this year.”
Siena gained perimeter weapons in freshman additions of Ryan Oliver and Richard Audu to go along with Brett Bisping who can play in the front court while also being able to step out and shoot.
“What I like is they’re all skilled, they all add a certain level of shooting ability to the team,” Buonaguro said. “That was an area we wanted to address with this particular recruiting class, they can all shoot it.”
“I think they’ve all got good size, they’re all kids I think will fit in in terms of hitting an open shot, they’ll stretch the defense. Issues they’ll have, like any other freshman, they’re going to have to learn the system, they’re going to have to get used to the intensity level, they’re going to have to deal with inconsistency which certainly all freshmen go through. I think they’re quality people and good players so I think eventually they’re going to be good contributors.”
While Siena receives an influx of players onto the roster, the core of the returning starting lineup remains in tact. The three presumed starters who played last season, O.D. Anosikie, Evan Hymes and Rob Poole, combined to play over 50% of the team’s minutes last season. Add Rahkeem Brookins, who missed last season but averaged 31.6 minutes during his freshman year, and the Saints starting lineup has enough experience.
Hymes, who played point guard last season, will assume the point to start the season. Brookins, who missed all of last season with a herniated disc in his back and was forced to redshirt, will assume the shooting guard spot while also filling in at point from time to time. Brookins played as a shooting guard next to Malik Wayns in high school and Buonaguro said he believes that the combination of Hymes and Brookins will give opponents trouble.
“I think together the only thing they’ll have to get used to, they’re both very good ball handlers,” Buonaguro said. “Rahk playing without the ball a little more than he did as a freshman and at times that can be an adjustment for him, but I think they’re going to create problems for the other team.”
Brookins, who missed the entire season with a bulging disk at L-3-L-4 and herniated disc at L-4-L-5 in his back, is healthy and ready to start the preseason but he will be monitored to make sure he remains healthy and doesn’t have any lingering back issues.
“We’ve got to be careful and not have him overextend his back, we will monitor him very closely,” Buonaguro said. “When he does feel like his back isn’t feeling good, we’re going to have to sit him out.”
“I think it will be a wait and see with him, I think right now he’s feeling good so and he’s played with the guys he doesn’t feel the back issues anymore so let’s hope that continues through the season and have a healthy Rahkeem Brookins for the whole year.”
Coming off a strong freshman year, Hymes will be expected to progress in his game this season.
“We’ve talked to him about his decision making,” Buonaguro said. “He’s watched a lot of film trying to get him to make better decisions.”
“We’ve talked to him about shot selection, taking better shots. We’ve talked to him about when he gets in the lane, not to over penetrate. Evan’s very coachable and I think you’ll see a better player this year he was certainly very good last year and I think he’ll be better this year.”
Rob Poole, who started six games as a freshman last season, will take over at the small forward spot. Poole shot 27.4% from behind the arc and scored a season-high 16 in Siena’s overtime win over Manhattan in the MAAC quarterfinals. Buonaguro said he expects Poole to improve as a shooter this season.
“Poole was recruited as a really good shooter, I think he is but he played inconsistently as a freshman,” Buonaguro said. “His shooting numbers have to get better but I think they will.”
O.D. Anosike, a favorite for MAAC Player of the Year, will start down low for the Saints. Teams will likely key on the Siena forward, who led the team with 15.0 points per game and was one of the best rebounders in the nation last season, with double-teams and Buonaguro said that they are anticipating that this season.
“We’ve got to put him in different spots, make sure we’re spaced well on the floor, make sure our guys are hitting shots I think that will be important that we shoot better,” Buonaguro said. “That was one of the things that we’ve identified as a staff going into the year that we have to shoot the ball better and have been working towards that goal. I think a lot of things will come to be with O.D.’s doubles, but we’ll come up with a strategy to make sure that we’re getting good looks.”
The third-year Siena coach said he plans on using Anosike to help open up his variety of outside shooting weapons. Freshmen Oliver and Audu come in as three-point weapons, along with progression from Brookins, Hymes and Poole could help improve on a three point percentage that ranked last in conference play last season.
The fifth starter on the roster appears to be an upcoming position battle heading into fall practices.
Buonaguro said that either Davis Martens, a senior who missed last season with hip surgery or Imoh Silas, a sophomore who had to stay a year in residence before playing, appear to be the favorites for the final starting spot. That spot will likely be determined when the team hits the floor for their first official practices in October.
Siena will also get Trenity Burdine who was sidelined last season with ongoing foot issues as well as Lionel Gomis who had to sit a year in residency before he could play.
Gomis and Silas, both coming from Africa via prep school before Siena, were able to practice with the team last season and Buonaguro said they have both improved during their season in residency.
“When it initially hit both of them to not be able to play but I think the practices, the constant, the individual improvement sessions. They’re more ready coming in now as sophomores obviously than the freshmen would be,” Buonaguro said. “I think they showed improvement, I think they got better offensively. They played a lot with our guys and know what we expect on the court so I think from that point of view they improved a lot and should be contributors.”
With a deep roster, the Saints will be able to make a variety of moves that they were not able to last season, most notably play faster basketball.
“We can play a little more up tempo I think,” Buonaguro said. “We got more players, there will be a certain level of intensity.”
“To ask the guys last year for 36-37 minutes to kill themselves that was tough. You’re asking a team, that was basically half a team. This team has depth and they’ll be asked to play hard every minute they’re on the floor which I think they’re capable of doing.”
When the first official practice begins in October, Buonaguro said he is looking forward to seeing a team that will be very competitive at every spot.
“It’s going to be a team that’s going to be fun in practice because you got good competition,” Buonaguro said. “I’m looking forward to working with all the guys, I think practice for a coach is the ultimate so I’m just looking forward to working with them and putting the team together for a successful season.”